QUESTION: Joe Eldredge of Martha’s Vineyard asks: “In developing your flow of facts and events of Oxford’s last years, how have you dealt with the tempting possibility of Southampton (3rd) as a royal “changeling”? Is it: 1) of interest?; 2) a challenge to be dealt with? 3) Significant and/or necessary to explain much of the identity aspects of authorship? 4) at the very least a delightful threat to the names of two of our eastern states? Time: Thursday June 25, 2009 at 12:01 am
Thanks for asking, Joe. To #1, yes, if only because I began researching the authorship question in Boston in the 1990s where the Prince Tudor theory reigned supreme: #2, yes, it was “a challenge to be met,” along with many other theories, blanks and anomalies; #3, no, I never found it significant or necessary to explain the identity aspects of authorship, most of which, in my view, originated from Oxford’s need for privacy and later by the business policies of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. I’m not sure what you mean by #4.
The “royal changeling” (or “Prince Tudor,” or “Royal Bastard”) scenario, that has Elizabeth giving birth to the illegitimate child of Oxford (or Seymour, or Leicester), was not particularly “tempting” to me at the start because my personal experience as a woman functioning in a man’s arena made it seem unlikely, from the little that I knew about Elizabeth, that a woman in her position would have dared to develop a sexual relationship with any of her courtiers.
Working in Manhattan in my younger years with a team of other young designers, photographers, studio managers and salesmen, all men, some attractive, to have gotten sexually involved with one of them would have meant a permanent loss of place as a member of a creative and competitive team. Had I become “his” to one of them, the rest would no longer regard me as a colleague. The team spirit would be disrupted, and this would be blamed on me, not on him, so while he ( as one of “the guys”) would remain part of the team, I would lose my independent standing. Even a little flirting with an outside salesman caused ripples. Women I’ve talked to about this with a similar work experience, have verified this view. If you let it happen, suddenly it’s all about your sex, not your ability. So the question I sought to answer was, could Elizabeth’s situation have been different in some way from my own?
Years of research have left me where I began. Everything in her history, and the history of the period, reveals the Queen quite clearly as, in private, a rather sad figure whose normal female “urge to merge” had been disrupted in such brutally traumatic ways that there can be no possibility, tightly wound and neurasthenic as she was, that she could ever have overcome her fears, even had her position or her community allowed her to, which they did not. It’s amazing to me that, in the face of so much evidence, theories that set her up as some sort of Messalina continue to thrive.
To cut to the chase
By the time Oxford showed up, Elizabeth was the survivor of at least three traumas that left her incapable of a normal sexual response: her mother’s execution, her “first love” experience with Thomas Seymour that ended in his execution, and her attraction to Robert Dudley that ended with their highly publicized implication in the murder of his wife. These experiences, compounded, rendered her incapable of enjoying any aspect of sex but the preliminaries, which explains her continual indulgence in florid but unconsumated public flirtations and her obsession with preventing sex from taking place, not only for herself but for any courtier whose life she had any control over––and when they went ahead and did it anyway, reacting with hysterical cruelty.
The fact is that Queen Elizabeth simply could not have had a child, not because of a “membrana” as Ben Jonson put it, but because she could not and would not have allowed a man to “have her.” Hitchcock’s Marnie is a good example of a woman whose behavior can be traced to a similar trauma. Only for Elizabeth there could have be no Sean Connery to heal her with patient understanding. Elizabeth’s position wouldn’t allow it, nor would the Reformation of which she was the leading female example.
Although Elizabeth didn’t murder her mother’s lover (as did Marnie), she would have felt guilt for her mother’s fate in that had she been born a boy her mother would not have been condemned as a whore and executed, and for Seymour’s, in that, however innocently, she was to some degree the bait that tempted him to perdition. Where irrational self-blame is in control, innocense is no defense.
Thus any scenario that relies on Queen Elizabeth giving birth to one or more notable artists, scientists, or political figures are simply outside the realm of possibility, however “tempting.” That other factors compounded her problem, such as the devastating political ramifications of becoming pregnant, or even of marrying, her lack of any family support, the utter lack of privacy at Court, the fact that every other queen she knew of (but Marie de Medici) was done in by her sexuality, her probable fear that she inherited syphilis from her father, all add to a psychology too racked with guilt and fear to ever allow herself to be backed into a situation where she might have to yield herself sexually.
Elizabeth was a survivor, a person who found ways to make lemonade out of the lemons she was handed by life, so, with the help of her portrait artists and poets she turned her incapacity into a selling point. Privately, however, it made her crazy with frustration. This is obvious from her more fact-oriented biographies. Based on the kind of documentary evidence that’s available only to a biographer, in every incident, in every character trait, Queen Elizabeth demonstrates the kind of hysterical emotional rigidity that, back in the 1950s, Kinsey diagnosed as frigidity caused by a stringent moral code that sees sex as sinful and dirty.
Although this kind of moralistic attitude towards sex has not been completely dispelled from our culture today, it has been diminished (largely due to the efforts of Freud’s protégé, Wilhelm Reich, who paid dearly for his pioneering stand). Most intelligent people today see a certain amount of sex as healthy, but this was hardly the case in Elizabeth’s time, or indeed for centuries until the 1960s when the pill freed unmarried women from the threat of pregnancy. During the Middle Ages, when a large percentage of the population, both male and female, more or less voluntarily signed on for a lifetime of abstinence as nuns, monks, priests, or friars, nobody regarded such a life as unhealthy. In later centuries, unmarried men and women were expected to remain celibate, and many did, particularly women.
In a way it’s unfair to one of England’s greatest leaders to refuse to see her as she truly was, a woman in a man’s world, wrestling heroically, if not always kindly or logically, with one excruciating dilemma after another. That one of those dilemmas was the unrelenting pressure from her councillors, her parliament, and her people to marry and give birth to an heir to the throne hardly fits with the notion that she would risk everything by having unprotected sex with one of her ambitious courtiers. That she stayed the course for 40 years, maintaining the kind of stability that gave England time to build the strength among the nations of the West, was, if you look objectively at the background to her reign, largely due to her success in remaining single.
As for Oxford
Theories based on Oxford’s having sex with Elizabeth are unfair to him as well. If Oxford was Shakespeare he was one of the most romantic souls who ever lived. As a teenager, raised in isolation from children his own age, the impulse that gave rise to stories like Romeus and Juliet was a romantic yearning for intimacy with a beautiful girl his own age. True love was what he wanted, from one for whom he was the one and only, not from a tough-minded dominatrix, 17 years his senior.
As contemporary evidence makes clear, Elizabeth was attracted to Oxford in his youth. She was intelligent and liked to laugh. He was a witty fellow, and witty fellows like to make others laugh. They both liked to dance. But that they ever did any more than dance and exchange witty ripostes is so unlikely as to be impossible.
Oxford had a rather distant relationship with his own mother, due to the policies of the time which placed young peers out of the parental home shortly after birth, and it’s unlikely, given the background of his life with Sir Thomas Smith, that Smith’s wife saw him as anything but a rival for her husband’s attention. In other words, he was lacking a mother figure in his life.
Elizabeth was just old enough to be his mother (they were 17 years apart in age). She exerted the kind of control over his every move that only a wealthy and powerful mother could have exerted over someone of his rank and status. In every respect, Elizabeth filled the role of mother towards him. But only in an external sense because Elizabeth was not motherly towards Oxford at all.
In fact, she was cruel to him, not allowing him the use of his own estates, using the power given her by the Court of Wards to allow her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, to use them to his advantage during the 9 years that Oxford was an underage ward of the Court. Oxford would have known that Leicester was unkind towards his mother during this time, while she was continuing to live in one of the Oxford estates after the death of his father. Oxford would have hated both Leicester and Elizabeth for that, and for any number of other things.
If it’s unthinkable that Elizabeth would have had sex with any of her courtiers, it is even less thinkable that the romantic young Oxford would have had the slightest desire to have sex with her. To have a sexual relationship with someone who has such power over every aspect of one’s life suggests passivity, even masochism. Nothing in Oxford’s history suggests such traits. Everything indicates the opposite.
We know that in his teens and early twenties he was writing romantic poetry to girls and women at Elizabeth’s Court. I think it very likely that some of it was written to please the Queen herself, because he knew, as did everyone at Court, how she yearned to believe that she was surrounded by adoring suitors. But that it ever went any further than some contrived Petrarchan verses is to make bread out of air.
Those who wish to draw parallels between Venus and Adonis and the relationship between Oxford and the Queen should take a closer look at the plot. Venus lusts after Adonis, but he turns away, not because he’s repelled by her, but because as he explains, he’s not ready yet. Like so much of what Oxford wrote, the poem carried a message to his friends and patrons, who may have wondered about their early relationship, just as some do today: “the Queen was hot, but I was not.” And as he was so adept at doing, there was a message in it for Elizabeth too: “You were hot, but I was too young,” a message that, from a man in his early 40s to a woman who was turning 60, would have been a much appreciated compliment.
Point being: nothing happened! Which is really what Elizabeth wanted all along, of course. All she ever wanted, all she was capable of wanting, at least by the time Oxford got to Court, was to be desired, not just by him, but by everyone. Desired by everyone, touched by no one, like the Moon.
For a profile of Elizabeth, read Queen Elizabeth.
For details on the causes of Elizabeth’s fears, read This Queen hates marriage.
For more on Elizabeth’s sexuality, read The Marriage Card.
For more on Elizabeth’s pose as the Great Goddess, read The Politics of Frustration.
Please read these before commenting.